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Spoken acquisition the highlight of Avaya Engage 2018

The standout announcement at Avaya Engage 2018 was the acquisition of contact-center-as-a-service provider Spoken Communications, which will bolster Avaya's cloud strategy.

Avaya took a big step toward building a competitive cloud-based unified communications portfolio with the acquisition of contact-center-as-a-service provider Spoken Communications.

Avaya announced the all-cash deal this week at the Avaya Engage 2018 user conference -- the first since Avaya exited bankruptcy late last year. The company also launched at the show a desktop phone series, an all-in-one huddle-room video conferencing system and cloud-based customer support software, called Ava.

Avaya plans to offer Spoken services as an option for customers who want to move to the cloud slowly. Companies using Avaya on-premises software can swap out call-center features one at a time and replace them with the Spoken cloud version.

"With the acquisition of Spoken, it's clear that Avaya is putting more of an emphasis on building out its own hosted offerings that it can either sell direct or through channels," said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Avaya's cloud strategy

The current executive team is determined to shift Avaya's focus to the cloud in terms of both technology development and business model.
Elka Popovaanalyst at Frost & Sullivan

Only a small percentage of Avaya's customers use its cloud-based services, which lag behind those of rivals Cisco and Microsoft. Nevertheless, the market for contact center and UC as a service is growing much faster than on-premises software, analysts said.

"The current executive team is determined to shift Avaya's focus to the cloud in terms of both technology development and business model," said Elka Popova, an analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, based in San Antonio. "The team acknowledges they are a bit late to the game, and most of their cloud portfolio is a work in progress, but the determination is there."

Since last year, Avaya has worked with Spoken on bringing contact center as a service (CCaaS) to Avaya customers through product integrations. The joint effort has led to integration between Spoken's cloud-based services and Avaya's on-premises Call Center Elite and Aura Communication Manager. The latter is Avaya's UC platform.

Spoken uses speech recognition in its CCaaS offering to automate call-center processes and make customer service agents more efficient. For example, Spoken can transcribe conversations agents have with each customer, which frees customer reps from having to type notes into the system manually.

Spoken technology can also listen for keywords. If it hears the word invoice, for example, it can retrieve the customer's bill automatically for the agent.

Spoken has more than 170 patents and patent applications that will go to Avaya, which expects to close the transaction by the end of March. The company did not release financial details.

Other Avaya Engage 2018 announcements

In other Avaya Engage 2018 news, the vendor introduced a cloud-based messaging platform for reaching customers on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, WeChat and Line. Avaya's Ava can provide immediate self-service support or send customers to an agent. If the latter occurs, then all information gathered during the automated service is handed to the service rep.

Ava supports 34 languages and has APIs Avaya partners can use for product integration. Last year, Avaya launched an initiative called A.I.Connect to encourage other vendors to connect products with artificial intelligence or machine learning capabilities with Avaya communication software.

Despite its cloud focus, Avaya is still paying attention to hardware. The company announced at Engage the J series line of desktop phones. The three phones come with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. Avaya plans to release the hardware in the second quarter.

Also, the company introduced a second Vantage touchscreen phone. Unlike the first one unveiled last year, the latest hardware comes with the option of a traditional keyboard. It also supports Avaya IP Office, which provides a combination of cloud-based and on-premises UC services.

Finally, Avaya launched the CU-360 all-in-one video conferencing system for huddle rooms, which small teams of corporate workers use for meetings. The hardware can connect to mobile devices for content sharing.

Overall, the Avaya Engage 2018 conference reflected positively on the executive team chosen by Avaya CEO Jim Chirico, analysts said. Formerly Avaya's COO, Chirico replaced former CEO Kevin Kennedy, who retired Oct. 1.

"Overall, the event did not produce a wow effect," Popova said. "There was nothing spectacular, but the spirits were high, and the partner and customer sentiments were mostly positive."

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